December 27, 2017 – Wealthy Nigerians Who Have Oil Refineries Off Shore Blocking Repair Of Broken Oil Refineries So Nigeria Can Perpetually Remain Importers Of Petroleum Products
By Bola Bolawole
And they ruined the Christmas for us! Who are the “they”? The authorities, of course! The Federal Government that should have ensured that issues pertaining to the availability of fuel were sorted out neglected to do so. Notice was given by those who threatened to cause hiccups and time was ample for the government to have acted promptly – but it did not.
It waited until push became shoving before it pretended to give “orders” to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, to solve the problem. But of course we all knew that Kachikwu was the wrong person to have been so ordered. Kachikwu is a lame duck in that ministry in that he has no real, effective power.
He exists in the ministry just for window-dressing. The real powers in the ministry are the substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources, who is also the president, Muhammadu Buhari; and the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru.
Then there is the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari. These three are the powers that determine what goes up and down in the oil sector. Kachikwu is allowed to know very little, if anything at all. Not long ago, the Minister of State cried out that contracts worth over $25 billion were awarded out by Baru without his input. Alarmed Nigerians expected the president to be livid and for heads to roll; none of that happened.
Kachikwu was called inside and the riots act was silently read to him. He must have been pilloried for being audacious to go public with what the powers-that-be were satisfied with. He was ordered to go and pose for photographs with Baru and swallow his vomit. All is now well, Kachikwu eventually told a petrified citizenry.
This is the same man they have now hung the ongoing fuel scarcity on; he was the one ordered to go and make fuel available, as if he caused or knew how the scarcity was caused in the first place. But when a grovelling errand boy is still satisfied with the crumbs from the master’s table, he must dutifully obey “orders from above”.
But it is doubtful if Kachikwu can solve the problem of fuel scarcity on a permanent level. Fire brigade approach, which we have always adopted, will ensure that products are rushed in from abroad in a matter of days; “normalcy” will return and we shall soon forget the nightmare – until it rears its ugly head again. Scarcity of petroleum products will remain with us for as long as we import products. Our refineries have deliberately been cannibalised and made unworkable.
There are those who make billions from an endless run of turn-around maintenance, repair and upgrade contracts. If the refineries work well, those big men and women and their collaborators in government will run out of business. There are also those importers of products who will never want the refineries to work. They make their kill from importation.
During the presidency of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, this country was ripped off to the tune of trillions of Naira in subsidies for products not supplied. In this group are also powerful Nigerians who are said to have refineries outside our shores. They will never want our refineries to work so we can perpetually remain importers of petroleum products. For as long as the NNPC remains the major importer of products, we will also have problems with the availability of products. The problems inherent in NNPC being the major importers of products are hydra-headed.
NNPC is opaque and not transparent and accountable in its operations. They hide under monopoly to subsidise importation and give the facade of “no subsidy”. What they do is leverage on the monopoly they enjoy to dip their hands into funds that should go into the Federation Account to subsidize importation, often with the connivance of the CBN and the approval of the federal authorities.
States and local governments as the two other tiers of government suffer the most for this audacity and lawlessness. This administration also advances and implements policies that not only work at cross-purposes but that are also inappropriate for the problem at hand. Striking a balance between higher crude oil price, the exchange rate of the Naira, and the price of fuel has become Herculean. So, it has been trial-and-error, hoping – and praying! – that things will work out! I suspect this government is also waiting and praying for Dangote’s refinery to come on stream like tomorrow! Until then, I am not sure they have any solution to the problem. We are going to experience shortages time and again.
Marketers have said they cannot sell at the current price; the president is said to have insisted that there would be no increase in pump price. There we go again! That was how their pig-headedness ruined the Naira and threw the economy into recession. NNPC can continue to maintain a monopoly over importation and then sell the product at a loss to the marketers.
In order words, government must return to the regime of subsidies under which this country was once fleeced of trillions of Naira. The alternative is to allow market forces, in which case marketers will import and sell at market rates, which may mean a rate higher than the current N145/litre.
There are many reasons why the second option is unattractive to government. One is the level of poverty and suffering in the land. Our situation has not improved since 2015 when we saw off Jonathan, believing that the APC and Buhari would quickly set at work to improve our lot. They have been unable to do that.
Now if they insist on making our situation worse, it may trigger “to your tents, O Israel” from the citizenry, and another election is not far away. Two is that the solutions which they should have adopted, they themselves had derided when they were in the opposition.
When they should have allowed market forces, they railed against it. When they should have adopted full deregulation, they jacked up fuel price once and believed that would be all. They were told they would soon need another increase in price but they refused to listen. Now they know better. This government is simply not competent with economic matters. We need a new economic team. Mid-term was the best time for Buhari to have done that but rather than the government renewing itself, it has continued to sink deeper into the miry clay.
[About the author: Bola Bolawale can be contacted via email@example.com]